In the United States, approximately 50% of all children have or will have divorced parents, and the data is clear that children of divorce tend to experience more problems with school, social behavior, and emotional growth. Mitigating such impact requires an effective co-parenting plan that shields the children from as much change as possible. Many divorce attorneys recommend creating this plan and officializing the agreement as part of the divorce process.
What is Co-Parenting?
Co-parenting has a number of different meanings with subtle differences, but in the context of divorce, it refers to the joint effort to raise children by two people who have had their marriage dissolved. The goals are the same as with traditional parenting as a married couple, but there are many additional challenges to navigate, including not living in the same home, the custody type, and blending in new family members.
Types of Co-Parenting
Family lawyers stress that co-parenting arrangements come in many different forms, and which dynamic is optimal for your family simply comes down to which works best for your children. That said, experts in the field tend to categorize all of these different arrangements into three fundamental co-parenting models:
- Parallel parenting
- Cooperative co-parenting
- Conflicted co-parenting
Parallel parenting was once considered the norm, and research shows that it is still the method used about 50% of the time. Notice the word parenting is used here rather than co-parenting, and that is because there is little to no engagement between the parents. Each parent operates within their own domain. The problem with this approach according to divorce lawyers and other experts in the field is that there is no consistency. The children may experience a very different lifestyle with different rules and boundaries with one parent than they do with the other, and that creates harmful stress for the children.
People often choose parallel parenting because it is the path of least resistance. Moving on after a divorce can be difficult, and not having to deal with an ex-spouse makes it easier. Parallel parenting is sometimes a necessary evil. Consider a scenario in which one of the spouses has been a victim of abuse and has gone through a great deal to leave the marriage. In that scenario, it may be unwise to engage with each other, and therefore, a model in which the parents never intersect is best for all involved.
There is now greater awareness about how divorce affects children, and most family law attorneys and family counselors recommend a cooperative approach whenever possible. This method is now used in many cases, and the good news is that it is trending up and expected to be much more prevalent in the future. Cooperative co-parenting often requires a plan. Both parents will negotiate and compromise until they can agree on a set of rules that they will both follow. This approach ensures that that the children have a consistent home life no matter which home they are currently staying at.
Conflicted co-parenting occurs in many cases as well, and this is the worst possible scenario for the children. Active conflicts and emotional disengagement are common, and the research shows that this results in negative outcomes for many children exposed to it. In fact, the numbers suggest that this situation is no better than remaining together in the same household where there is constant fighting.
It is important to mention bird-nesting or bird’s nest custody in any discussion about co-parenting. Traditionally, the co-parenting method has been shaped by the custody. If one parent is given custody and the other visitation rights, the parent with primary custody has much greater control. Bird-nesting is an increasingly popular approach in which the co-parenting and custody are synergized. The family home that existed during the marriage is maintained, and the children continue to live there and under the same set of rules and routines that they always have. The difference is that the former spouses take turns living there and parenting the children. This is almost always a form of cooperative co-parenting as it does require a certain willingness to collaborate in order to implement this arrangement.
The Co-Parenting Agreement
Divorce attorneys encourage their clients to agree on a co-parenting plan as part of the divorce process. You can even include the plan as a part of the divorce agreement, and while that does make it more difficult to change down the line, it also provides you with some assurances. Any co-parenting agreement should cover child custody and child support but also all of the basics of parenting on a daily basis, such as:
- Health care
The vast majority of people who divorce and have children want what is best for their kids. While it may be easier to go your separate ways after divorce, it is not better for the children. People recognize this, and it is the reason cooperative parenting and parenting agreements are becoming more prevalent. But you do not have to look at this as making it harder on yourself for the sake of the children. Many family lawyers encourage co-parenting therapy because it makes it much easier for people to transition from a romantically involved partnership to a platonic partnership.
The concept of a co-parenting logbook originated with therapists seeking to improve communication in parallel parenting arrangements, but it is now recommended in all co-parenting arrangements. One of the biggest challenges with co-parenting is communication, and even in relationships where both people are cooperating, information that one parent has and the other needs can fall through the cracks. With bird-nesting, the logbook remains in the family home, and with other forms of custody, the logbook goes with the children. Parents can use the logbook to record medical information and notable events, which allows the other parent to have access to that up-to-date information when they need it.
Other Co-Parenting Tips
Divorce lawyers agree that open and honest communication is the key to successful co-parenting. Be flexible and willing to compromise. It can be difficult at times but is better for the children and will make your parenting partner more prone to compromise in your favor in the future. Expect difficult feelings moving forward even if you are in a cooperative relationship, and consider individual therapy if you suspect that you may struggle with these feelings. Finally, never use your children as a spy or force them to choose between you and your ex-spouse, which is something you never want to do as a parent but may do inadvertently.
Legal Assistance for Co-Parents in New Jersey
Lawrence Law is a law firm of family law attorneys with extensive experience dealing with the many legal matters related to co-parenting, including custody and parenting plans. If you live in New Jersey and need assistance, we are here to help. Set up a consultation by calling us at 908-645-1000 or by contacting us online.